Although the Lord promises that he will deal kindly “to a thousand generations with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deut. 7:9), i.e., give them a very long succession of children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren whom he destines for virtue and piety, and that “to those who seek first his kingdom and righteousness he will add all other things” as liberally as possible (Matt. 6:33), he nevertheless demands that not only every private person but also every state and commonwealth should educate, form, and train its children for him with utmost care, and adapt each of them to those skills and activites for which the Lord himself has created each to be most suited; thus each person, as a sound and useful member in the body of the commonwealth, may contribute his share also to the good of the entire commonwealth, and no idle person may feed as a drone on the labors of others. For the divine law decrees: “Whoever does not work, let him not eat” (II Thess. 3:10-11).
Just as the churches, therefore, ought to exclude from their communion whoever lead idle lives, neither should a Christian state tolerate anyone who does not dedicate himself to some honest work or labor which is useful to the commonwealth. For men obviously cannot do nothing. And so, when they are engaged in no proper activities and salutary concerns, Satan implicates them in evil and harmful pursuits and deeds. For when men of this kind foully and shamefully reject the nature and image of God (for which they have been made and created by him), who always acts to provide good things for his creatures, they despise and neglect the means by which they may prove themselves industrious citizens, fruitful to their neighbors and to the entire community, and they surrender to Satan as captives to his whim, so that he may use them as instruments to inflict all manner of harm on men.
They are the ones who commit treacheries and shameful acts and think up pernicious pleasures. They introduce an intolerable luxury of food, drink, clothing, and other things pertinent to the use or adornment of the body; they undermine laws and overthrow public moral discipline. They subvert reverence and obedience due to princes, magistrates, and men outstanding in prudence and authority; they cause the increase of thefts, bloodsheds, and robberies and stimulate insurrections.
And I hear from a great many good and religious men that all too many in this realm perish because of idleness; for not only the nobles but even certain bishops and prelates feed an excessively large crowd of idle men, and others imitate the idleness of these as much as they can. The consequence is that those who are assigned to the ministries of churches and schools are so sluggish and slow to teach that there are so few workers and among them not many who are skilled; agriculture is quite neglected, and the cost of work and workers is increased and is growing daily. And when so many lower-class men give themselves up to idleness, it also follows that many abstain from holy marriage and procreation of children so that there is a reduction in the number of citizens. And while they are engaged in no honest business and lead an unmarried life, not for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven but because of their laziness, they create a very grave danger to chastity as I have said, and bring on the very plague. Furthermore, this is the wickedness on account of which the wrath of God also comes upon nations alienated from the knowledge of Christ. How much less, therefore, would God leave such things unpunished among a people glorying in his Kingdom? And so the salvation of so many people entrusted to Your Majesty clamors for a wholesome law against this pest of the community, this slothful and pernicious idleness; it calls for the strict observance of this law in order to cut the roots of these great evils and to provide a holy industry useful to the state, and to orient everyone from childhood toward a zeal for productive work.
The first heading of such a law ought to establish this, that in every village, town, and city there should be appointed a certain number of men, in proportion to the population. They should be men of outstanding piety, wisdom, and prudence whose task it would be to be in charge of education from childhood through young manhood in every jurisdiction and to arrange that every citizen should give his children over to the learning of certain skills, and each one to the particular skills to which it seems that the Lord has made him best suited in the opinion of these youth directors. For everyone brings forth children more for Christ the Lord, the Church, and the commonwealth than for himself; which Plato also recognizes (Laws XI).
And since we acknowledge that all our people, in however humble a station and condition of poverty they have been born, have been made in the image of God and redeemed by the blood of the Son of God for their restoration to this image, faithful pastors of the people of God certainly must see to it, as much as the Lord wishes to use their ministry in this matter, that each person committed to their governance should be restored and led back to this very image of God, both by pious learning in the knowledge of salvation and by faithful exercise toward every virtue.
And since the assiduous reading of Holy Scripture (which as Saint Gregory piously wrote, “is a letter of God to all” his “creation”) most contributes toward the restoration of this image of God, another heading of the law which will restore holy industry by putting an end to godless idleness should decree that the children of all Christians, girls and boys, should learn to read and write as diligently as possible. This is why the ancient holy fathers wished to have a school at every church, in which all the children consecrated to Christ the Lord through Holy Baptism should be taught the writings and the catechism of our religion.
It is necessary, as has already been said, that many such schools be established among us if we want Christ fully to reign among us. Hence, it must be arranged that the children of all be sent to these schools in order there to learn the writings and the catechism of our faith. This should occur as soon as they are old enough and able to do so. The children of citizens of the lower classes should learn the art of reading and writing and the fundamentals of our religion at a tender age, when they cannot yet be used for other tasks. Moreover, pious citizens whose means are not sufficient for the instruction of their children in reading and writing and in various other special skills ought to be helped by the churches when such children have an aptitude for learning.
But when the boys have learned the writings and the catechism of our religion, those paidonomoi, directors of youth education, must find out which of the boys have talents for acquiring greater learning and arrange that boys of this kind are instructed more liberally in literature, languages, and the fine arts and thus better prepared for a fuller service to Church and State. They may be left in the schools in which they are or sent to others where better teaching is available, at the expense of their parents if the Lord has given them abundance, otherwise at the expense of the Church.
For why should Church and State find it a burden to prepare for themselves ministers of life eternal, and of such great advantages of the present life? Nor can the parents rightly refuse to permit the churches to have their children for this kind of instruction, or to support and foster their studies at their personal expense. For, as has been said, they have given birth to their children for Christ the Lord and his Church and the State and pledged and consecrated them thus in the new birth of Baptism.
Therefore, for whatever offices of his Church and the State the Lord has signified that they ought to be prepared and trained, who would find it a burden to hand over his children and advance them toward those offices most eagerly, unless he wants to reject Christ the Lord and all his benefits at the same time? Nor could anyone choose a more honest and blessed condition of life than the one for which Christ our Maker and Savior has destined each individual.
Further, if some of the boys who have already learned reading, writing, and the catechism of our faith, or who even have applied themselves for some time to the learning of liberal arts, appear not to be gifted by the Lord for the reception of further academic instruction, let these be directed to other pursuits, each to that for which each seems more naturally endowed and gifted.